The Writing Mind: How to Find the Words

John Sowers

“I never exactly made a book. It was rather like taking dictation” -CS Lewis

The first place I go to write is not my Mac. Or my typewriter. Or the yellow-lined notepad. I go somewhere else entirely. And I’m not exactly sure how to get there.

*Photo by Steffen Zahn, Creative Commons

Other authors go there too. Philip Yancey says he only finds this place after he’s been alone in a cabin for a week, without shaving. Bob Goff puts on his Indiana Jones hat and goes excavating for buried treasure. Anne LaMott calls it, “finding your broccoli.”

It’s a place other than our rational and linear mind. It’s the still small Voice that whispers to us – once we move beyond noise. Beyond hurry. Beyond crowds.

But our problem Anne says, is that most of us lost access to our broccoli when we were children. “You need your broccoli to write well. Otherwise you’re going to sit down in the morning and only have your rational mind to guide you.

For Fatherless Generation – I went to Fresh Pot Coffee in Portland. I stood outside the door at 5:55 am, waiting for six. I just stared at the door. You know, the sleepy-eyed, glazed stare when your eyes are a little too far open. Even if someone is right in front of you, you kinda look past them. I’d go in and order a latte, put my earbuds in, then close my eyes.

I was searching for soul more than words.

I knew if I found soul, the words would follow. And for Fatherless Generation, my specific mandate was to find the voice of a generation. I needed to find angst, I needed to find pain.

I listened to Mothers of the Disappeared by U2. Over and over again. I soaked in it. The beautiful sorrow. The mourning. My best writing came when I wrote from this place. But when I wrote from other, more rational places, it fell flat.

The more I searched for soul, the more I found its rhythm. The broccoli came sooner. The words followed. Writing became a fantastic voyage into the unknown.

Often these early sessions yielded pieces – fragments – sometimes they were sublime and non sequitur. Other times they felt true. I built ideas around those small pieces. And let them all come at the same time. No edits.

Editing was more about craft, more linear. It worked better for me later in the morning, after I was done exploring. I got jammed up when I tried to explore and edit at the same time.

Finding your broccoli is about getting to the place where you can listen, then having the courage to write whatever you hear.

-John Sowers

John Sowers

John Sowers

This is a post by John Sowers, one of the Storyline Contributors. Learn more about John's story by visiting his website or by following along on Twitter (@johnsowers).